Prima Luke was a chef at the popular Bay St. Louis eatery Dock of the Bay for 21 years before her sister sold the restaurant five months before Hurricane Katrina swept it away. Now Luke’s cooking has gone to the dogs — literally. Luke is now the owner of Bark of the Bay, a bakery and boutique for dogs located at 404 Dunbar Avenue.
After ending her career as chef, Luke decided it was time to do some kind of business with dogs.
“A building came up for rent that seemed like a good spot, so I just started it,” Luke said. “Now, no one can believe I’m cooking for dogs instead of people. But I’ve done more than my share of cooking for people.
“Bay St. Louis is a real big dog town, and there are not that many places you can go and take a dog with you. Some dogs when they first come in are real skeptical because they think it is like a vet. By they leave and notice nothing bad happens. They didn’t get a shot or have anything else unpleasant happen to them. And the next time they come, they are ready to have a good time.”
Bark of the Bay provides a place for dogs and their owners to hang out. Inside there are numerous different kinds of healthy dog treats in addition to toys, clothing and supplies such as dog shampoo. There are also dog activities, games for the canine crew.
Customers have full run of place
It might be accurately described as “doggie heaven.”
“We have a courtyard fenced in between buildings,” said Luke, whose job title is “top dog.” “They have the full run of the place. They can run in and run out. We don’t do grooming or nail clipping or anything else that a dog doesn’t like. It is all fun for dogs. It is like a big toy store for dogs.”
Is your Best Friend’s birthday coming up? You can invite a few friends, and some DIGnitaries, and Luke will cook up a special doggie birthday PAWty cake. And you don’t have to worry about the party goers overdosing on sugar because the cake has no sugar. Like all treats at Bark of the Bay, it is all natural, with no salt, preservatives or artificial colors.
There are 14 different varieties of dog treats on display at the shop. Some of the flavors include spinach, garlic and peanut butter. Other items carried by Bark of the Bay include clothing and costumes for dogs, toys, beds and travel accessories like carrying cases. Paul Mitchell grooming products are very popular, especially the shampoo.
You might think that running a dog parlor might mean a major scuffle now and then. But the dogs get along just great.
“We don’t have any problems with dogs fighting,” Luke said. “It is a neutral territory. It is not like they are guarding anything. They have all been really good, even those whose people say their dogs are wild.”
Luke has been going to the Barkus Parade in French Quarter in New Orleans for many years. Despite there being 1,000 dogs in the parade, which will be held January 27th this year, Luke has only ever heard of one dog fight. She’d like to promote similar Mardi Gras parades in the Bay St. Louis/Waveland area, as well as a dog Christmas parade. The local non-profit Friends of the Shelter puts on an Easter parade each year.
“It is pretty amazing how dogs act when they get in a group,” Luke said. “The dogs are really funny. They are cute as can be. At my shop, they can look at themselves in costumes in a big mirror down low. They will pick out the toys that they like.”
‘Let them be how they are’
What does Luke like dogs so much?
“Dogs are nonjudgmental,” she said. “They are. They are so much fun if you just let them be how they are, instead of ‘don’t do this and that.’ They are a lot of fun to watch and to be around. I never met a three- or four-legger all my life that I didn’t like.”
So what’s the attraction for the dogs? First you have to realize that Luke’s cooking is so good that a local non-profit that had her catering a monthly luncheon was having people show up who weren’t members. People were coming to eat, and leaving before the program. So these gourmet doggie treats are something special that you aren’t going to find anywhere else.
The attraction isn’t just the food, which they could eat at home, but the socialization that goes on between the dogs. The dog visitors are made to feel right at home by Luke’s dogs, who range in size from a tiny Maltese who is just over two pounds to a great Dane who weighs 138 pounds.v
One big niche
While this all sounds like a great novelty, what are the odds of Bark of the Bay being a business success? Actually, pet sales are the second-largest growing retail sales category after infants.
“From all the things I’ve read, it is a $14-billion-per-year industry now, and is expected to grow 9% per year for next five years,” Luke said. “I have some of the cutest dog clothing like sweaters, jackets and hoodies. People dress up dogs just like kids. My little Maltese probably has more clothes than I do. My great Dane likes to dress up, too, but it is a little harder to find clothes his size.”
Clearly, the business suits Luke to a “t.”
“It is much more rewarding than just standing in a kitchen putting orders out,” Luke said. “I’ve gone to the dogs, and that is where I’m going to stay.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.